Marion buys drone to help with emergencies
Employees for the city of Marion will undergo training to learn how to fly the city's fascinating new bit of equipment -- an unmanned aerial system.
The Marion City Council approved the purchase of the system Monday for $14,817. Unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, are controlled by an operator on the ground.
Safety Director Brian Fisher said the city has been talking about buying a drone for several years.
"Every year, I meet with every superintendent and find out what we can do to keep claims down and help our employees," he said.
Fire Chief Jerry Odum said the UAS could be used for checking on the condition of a roof where a structure fire is raging underneath, or to fly over a hazmat situation before sending employees in.
"So they can see what chemical they are dealing with instead of sending men into a potentially dangerous situation," he said Monday.
The police department has potential uses for it as well, Fisher said. Missing persons and searching for fugitives could be aided with a device.
"When there is a missing person, especially a child, we throw every resource we have available on the case," he said. "A lot of people think when you put a canine out there, that dog can run forever. That's not the case. The dog actually has to stop quite often to take breaks."
The city borrowed a UAS only this past weekend, when 250 gallons of used motor oil spilled into the West End Creek as a result of a spigot being left open by accident. Fisher said the UAS gave emergency personnel a bird's-eye view of how far the spill had stretched and helped them understand what they were facing.
Fisher added that having a drone during the recent floods would have been helpful in making damage assessments. Accident reconstruction is another potential use, he added.
Drone pilots must be certified through the FAA. Currently in Marion, no city employees are certified, and the city is looking to enroll employees in SIU's aviation program.
Fisher said he expects the drone will arrive about four weeks. He said it is up to the emergency personnel leaders to decide how many people will be trained.
The money to buy the drone came from a safety grant, which includes money brought back to the municipality through the city's insurance agency, Illinois Public Risk. He said the grant money pays for training related to keeping city employees safe.
Fisher said the UAS is being bought from Itasca, IL-based Darley. It will come with a color-zoom camera, he said.